It’s an irreverent teen comedy-drama with a main cast entirely made up of people of color. And it’s pretty great.
On My Block is already doing something cool with an old formula.
On My Block, which premiered on Netflix on March 16, follows a formula that's already pretty beloved: A group of teens who've been friends for a while start high school together. Along the way they try to figure out themselves, one another, and the world. As a show, On My Block is at once irreverent, sweet, and bold. It also feels like a much-needed addition to the classic genre of teen ensemble dramedies.
The teens in this particular show live in inner-city Los Angeles, with all the positives and negatives that come with that. In the pilot, Monse (Sierra Capri) returns from writing camp to find that two of her closest friends are suddenly on bad terms with the fourth member of the group — Cesar (Diego Tinoco), who over the summer was pushed into gang life by his brother. The four set out to find a way to get him out of his situation. But they're also dealing with the basic (and eternal) questions teen shows are built on — questions like how to navigate high school, new romances, changing bodies, changing libidos, and teen awkwardness.
As one character's big brother says in the show's first episode, “Don't go into high school without back up. You guys need to stick together to survive. Got it?” That's an eternal formula right there.
It’s a teen show with a main cast entirely made up of people of color.
If there's one thing true of most of the glorified teen fare throughout history — from the John Hughes filmography to Mean Girls to Freaks and Geeks or The O.C. — it's that the vast majority of it was glaringly white. White teens everywhere got to have all the burgeoning feelings and school wardrobe malfunctions, stand-ins for emotions and experiences that were designed to read as universal. Even MTV's Awkward, a (great) teen show also created by On My Block co-creator Lauren Iungerich, fell into the sad history of blocking out all but the most tokenized of people of color.
On My Block, though, was built in defiance of that. Its four main teens — Ruby (Jason Genao), Monse (Capri), Jamal (Brett Gray), and Cesar (Tinoco)
— are all Latinx, black, or both. Most of the rest of the cast is made up of people of color as well. Considering how many communities and friend groups out there look exactly like this, you might think this would happen all the time on TV. But it's not often you find a show where seeing a white person is rare.
And that cast rocks.
Seriously, they're all good, and they all bounce off one another in that way that any ensemble show needs in order to really thrive. Genao, as Ruby, gives the type of speeches that make you kind of dizzy. And each one of these young actors is funny, with exactly the type of range to take their stories from those moments of hilarity to moments of drama.
One of the fun aspects of teen shows is that in a post–Freaks and Geeks world you get to imagine that the performers can all go on to take over the world. That's easy to envision here.
One of the show’s standouts, Capri, had literally never been in a TV show or movie before.
We stan a newcomer, and the On My Block cast is full of young people who are still very new to the game. Newest of them all is Capri, for whom On My Block is her first major gig. And let me tell you: She is killing it. By the time the credits on the first episode rolled, I had already mentally cast Capri as two different superheroes and in several coming-of-age films.
Capri's character, Monse Finnie, is the show's closest thing to a central character, and watching Monse navigate the challenges and joys of her life makes you just want to…well, watch Capri more. You get the sense that you are watching the start of something — both through the show and through Capri herself.